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Time for a measured approach to tackle drink-driving menace

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(Stock picture)

(Stock picture)

(Stock picture)

In last week's Sunday Independent Minister for Transport Shane Ross was being mischievous when, speaking about a fictional punter he might encounter in a Dundrum pub, he stated "three pints is equal to three penalty points".

This is patently false. If the Minister's fictional friend were to consume three pints of beer and then on the way home was stopped and breath tested he would, in all probability, be slapped with an automatic driving ban. It is highly dangerous for a Government Minister, or anybody else, to suggest otherwise.

Be clear on this - this Federation and its members do not condone drink-driving and those engaged in such activity should face the full rigours of the law without exception. What is lost in the current debate is the fact that automatic disqualification for drink-driving already exists. If you are caught with over 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in your system the law is clear - you are banned.

The legal limit is 50mg and it's in this gap - between 50mg and 80mg - that the Minister is attempting to change the law. At present anyone caught in this category receives a €200 fine and a three-point penalty for a first offence. As it is commonly accepted that consuming one pint of beer will bring you very close to the 50mg legal limit then it follows that drinking three pints will bring you well over the 80mg barrier.

So we are clear on this issue. Drunk drivers are disqualified from driving.

The Minister, in his article, quotes extensively from the Road Safety Authority report, Fatal Collisions 2008-2012 Alcohol as a Factor, and uses this as a basis to justify his proposals. I could dispute many of the assumptions in this report. I could point to the fact in some cases that the findings are based on "opinion". Further, "where culpability is cited this is not judicial culpability". The report clearly states alcohol was "a contributory factor" without quantifying how big a factor. Quoting from the report the Minister says that "38pc of road deaths are linked to alcohol". He conveniently forgets to tell us that 9pc of these deaths were pedestrians where driving was not a factor.

It appears selective misuse of figures is a running theme with the Minister. If he had studied the report properly he would have found that contrary to wild claims about tackling 38pc of road fatalities, in fact 1.3pc of total deaths are in the 50mg-80g category. He also introduces the "sherry trifle effect" when citing drivers "caught" at 20mg, well below the legal limit. You are in danger of ending up in this category if a liberal hand is used with the sherry when making a trifle.

The real problems are elsewhere. The report states more than 80pc of drivers involved in fatal accidents were more than twice the legal limit, while 50pc were a minimum of four times the limit. Those, together with speeding, use of mobile phones, tiredness and lack of enforcement are the real problem areas. Disregarding 98.7pc of the problem and concentrating on a possible 1.3pc is not a recipe for success. In his article the Minister personalised opposition to his proposals by naming TDs in Fianna Fail while also attacking the VFI, of which I am proud to be President.

The Minister should look closer to home where he will find a less-than-ringing endorsement for his plans.

He certainly lacks support in his own Alliance. This week his ministerial colleague, Sean Canney, said: "I have made it known that I will not be supporting Minister Ross in this regard."

Of course, any one fatality is one too many.

But bear in mind that in this report alcohol is only cited "as a factor". The report states that in only 11pc of the cases reviewed could it be said alcohol was the only factor and there is no evidence that any of this 11pc are in the 50mg to 80mg bracket.

The Minister refers to families who have been devastated by losing loved-ones to drunk drivers. Here he is equating the individual who has consumed 10 pints with the individual who is marginally over the limit of 50mg.

Using misleading figures, distorting the facts, misrepresenting the valid views of others or failing in a duty to take real corrective action are signs of desperation. I think the Minister is in that space. It is for others to speculate why.

I believe existing measures tackling drink-driving are adequate. Headline-grabbing actions rarely produce good results. The proposed legislation should be rejected.

Sunday Independent